As a child, you might have played Pacman and Space Raiders on your ZX Spectrum. Now, using computers, games consoles mobiles and other portable devices, your own children might be playing games like RuneScape, World of Warcraft, Minecraft and Angry Birds.

Whether you're an avid gamer or have no personal interest in it, it's vital that you understand your son or daughter's gaming habits.

What do I need to know about games? 

From scoring a goal to fighting monsters, young people love interactive games. According to Ofcom, most children in the UK use gaming devices, such as PlayStation, Nintendo Wii or Xbox, and use of tablets to play games is also increasing.

Did you know?
Young people are enjoying various types of games, including online games, multi-player games, video games, virtual world games and mobile games.

The launch of Microsoft’s Kinect for Xbox 360 in 2010 brought games to life in a new way, enabling users to control them with a wave of their hand or the sound of their voice.

And nowadays, gaming is no longer just about one person playing against their computer. Your son or daughter might be playing against other players from around the world (in a multi-player game) – according to Ofcom, three in ten 12-15 year olds play games with people they don't know personally over the internet. Plus, if they have a portable games console (such as a PSP) or an internet-enabled mobile, they can play games anywhere, any time.

Your child’s gaming experiences will generally be fun, but you should be aware of the following potential safety risks:

  • Some games might not be suitable for your child’s age – they might contain violent or sexually-explicit content, for example. You can find more information in our article about inappropriate and harmful content
  • If your child takes part in multi-player games on the internet (where they play against other people, potentially from all around the world) they might be at risk of hearing offensive language, being bullied or making themselves vulnerable to strangers if they give out their personal details
  • Some websites might not have the games owner’s permission to offer a game as a download so, if your son or daughter downloads from these sites, they might be breaking the law. You can find more information in our article about downloading and copyright law
  • Playing games on the computer, consoles or other devices could result in health issues, such as discomfort in your child’s hands, arms, shoulders and neck
  • Children might spend long periods of time playing interactive games rather than taking part in other leisure activities

Many games are rated by age (e.g. 12+) based on the Pan-European Game Information or Entertainment Software Rating Board systems so that you can make informed decisions about the games your children play.

You can also make the most of parental controls and privacy features provided by games, internet and mobile companies to help protect young gamers. For example, you can use timers to limit the amount of time your kids spend gaming and, for live multi-player gaming, many leading providers offer reporting tools so you can notify them about disruptive or offensive behaviour from other players.

What action can I take? 

Make sure your child only accesses online games that are appropriate for their age and always check the age rating on any game before buying it for your child

Play some of their favourite games together so you get a feel for them too

Set up Parental Controls based on your child’s age and maturity – but remember, they might not be 100% effective and they aren’t a substitute for parental supervision

Explain why they should be careful about who they trust online and encourage them to come to you if anything happens while they’re playing a game that makes them feel uncomfortable

Make sure they know how to make the most of privacy features built into gaming, internet and mobile services, such as using a voice mask to disguise their voice in a multi-player game or blocking other players

Encourage your child to not use their real name or usual email address when registering for a multi-player game

Explain how they should play correctly to help reduce the possibility of injuries – Microsoft offers advice on this

Encourage your son or daughter to take part in other activities, such as going for a bike ride or playing football, as well as playing interactive games

Read our downloading & copyright article so you can discuss what’s legal and safe – and what’s not – when it comes to downloading games on the internet

Read the other articles in the Get involved section of this website for advice on things like cyberbullying, online grooming and addictions that might occur as a result of gaming